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Album Review: Crash Kings (Crash Kings)

August 13, 2010

So it’s been a few months since my last post.  The world hasn’t ended yet, so I think it’s a great idea to pick up exactly where I left off and review a few more of my favourite albums out in the market today.  Sure, Muse is a recurring theme in my playlist, but I’ve expanded my horizons to different bands.  One band has really made an impact in the music industry – for me at least.  They’ve literally come out of nowhere to success and – this is the best part – they’re actually extremely talented.  Who is this band, you ask? Crash Kings.

Before going on to reviewing their album, I wanted to write a little blurb about the band itself.  Having formed in 2006 in sunny California, they immediately made their presence known in the Cali music scene and were signed to Custard Records.  Featuring Tony Beliveau on vocals and keyboards (who sounds an awful lot like a fusion between Paul McCartney and Jack White), Mike Beliveau on bass, and Jason Morris on drums, their sound’s really unique in the contemporary cataclysmic music industry we have today, filled with commercialized songs made for radio.  In terms of what this band actually sounds like, I can’t really put my finger on it.  At times, I’m taken back to the days of The Beatles with Paul McCartney on vocals during “Abbey Road”.  And, at other times, he sounds exactly like Jack White. Tony’s got an incredible vocal range that can’t be ignored.  Additionally, the band doesn’t have a lead/rhythm guitarist.  The “melodic” side of the band comes from Tony’s keyboard and occasionally used clavinet with distortion.  This splits them apart from their competition in the alternative rock industry and makes them a joy to watch and listen to.

So, without further ado, here’s my take on their self-titled debut album, Crash Kings.

1. Mountain Man

The first time I heard this on the radio, I was genuinely impressed.  At that point in time, I wasn’t really able to connect with any new band, as their sound was too “pre-packaged” from the studio.  However, this song was one that I could totally connect to.  Tony’s vocals are outstanding (you’ll hear me saying this quite a bit throughout this review).  The song itself has a simple structure and it’s almost like a chant.  The band has definitely spent quite a bit of time focusing on the simple things in the studio to perfect the recording.  For instance, the clapping right before the chorus is done with utmost precision and makes this song flow really well.  As I’m a closet headbanger, I absolutely adore the final chorus, when the band lets it all go and freaks out.  Moments like those make me love music (specifically alternative rock) even more.  The only big thing I would’ve changed is some variation to the verse/chorus – sure, it’s engaging the first time you listen to it, but after the third time, the lyrics get overly repetitive.  This isn’t an overtly bad thing to have in a song, but it’s something that can be improved.  Overall, a solid start to the album that keeps me engaged the whole way through. (A-)

2. 1985

One of my favourites. The bass line is epic.  His vocals are getting better with every song.  The biggest problem I have with this song is the cop-out of the chorus itself.  The verses use unusual chords and are definitely different from the normalized song melodies that we hear on the radio today.  But the chorus retracts to the same ol’ heartwarming chord structure.  However, from a lyrical perspective, it makes sense.  From a personal perspective, I’m not the hugest fan of it.  My mind does change once we get to the “post-chorus” of the song, where Tony’s able to turn the song around by combining quite a few chords together to create this crescendo of sorts. I guess that’s where the song begins to redeem itself! (A-)

3. It’s Only Wednesday

Love this piano riff. It’s just ridiculously bouncy and reminds me of a talented Maroon 5 (you know you agree with me).  The chorus, again, is a cop-out.  At one end of the spectrum, this band is amazingly talented – but at the other end, it’s almost as if they keep coming back to that repetitive, cliched chord structure for their chorus.  Nonetheless, it’s a good song.  The chord “riff” after the chorus is pretty genius, not going to lie.  When Tony starts to yell, “But you can’t believe it, can’t believe it tonight, and I don’t want to lose”, the song, like “1985” turns around positively.  The clavinet solo is evidence that this band can still rock out without an electric guitar.  It’s definitely a noteworthy song, but at this point in the album, I wasn’t convinced that the band was completely loose – it was like they were going through the motions. (B)

4. Come Away

Don’t necessarily know if this is a compliment or not, but I envision this song to be the background for a really corny scene in “The Notebook”.  Bands, in my opinion, never want their songs to be referred to as background music for a movie.  I’m not a total hater of this track, but they’re taking a step back from the progression of the album.  On it’s own, it’s a good, sweet song.  But I’ve seen thousands of good, sweet songs in the music industry already.  It’s almost as if I’m waiting for Tony to break out of his shell and start rocking out more.  The band’s great at doing ballads, but they’re even better at letting loose and feeling the music. So to reiterate – good song on its own, but I’ve heard this so many times in the radio already. (C)

5. Non Believer

This song might seem like an average to many, but I’m absolutely in love with the vocal line, the piano chords, and the bass line.  It’s not the most engaging song in the album, but it takes me back to “Penny Lane” by The Beatles.  Tony’s almost playing with my mind once he starts going into the chorus – the band goes from one phase to the other without ever stopping.  I’m expecting it to follow a particular structure, but the band’s definitely proven to me that they’re original.  If I were writing this song, I’d keep it really simple and sweet.  They’ve managed to do that, but make it original and exciting at the same time.  However, I can’t say I’d wait for this song to be played in one of their gigs.  Similarly, I completely dislike the outro of the song, where the background vocals are “Monday, Tuesday….”.  To me, there are so many things that they could have done instead of taking the conventional route and repeating the thesis of the lyrics.  For that reason and that reason alone, this song doesn’t COMPLETELY impress me.  Still solid. (B)

6.  14 ArmS

FINALLY. They start to let loose.  It’s like a sped-up version of “Lady Madonna” by The Beatles.  I absolutely ADORE this song.  Again, this band knows how to create different phases of a particular song and lead their listening audience from one to the other.  The tempo constantly changes and, at first listening, it seems like complete chaos.  However, it’s completely organized.  The band knows what it’s doing – when Tony starts singing “If the snake gets the rabbit in the end…”, it’s the high point in the song for me.  Their homage to The Beach Boys is obvious with Tony singing “God Only Knows” – see, it’s the little things like that make this song quite interesting to listen to. Definitely one of my favourites. (A)

7. Raincoat

Not the hugest fan of this song. The chorus is sweet, but the rest of the song is too much of a mess to be paying attention to meticulously.  It’s like the band has taken fragments of several songs they’ve written and stitched them together in a desperate attempt to create an original-sounding song.  Sure, I might be harsh, but it sounds that way.  Tony’s vocals are still impeccable, which is undoubtedly the high point of this song.  The bridge is, however, very well written (“Hold out your hands, hold out your hands, for me…”).  After the bridge, however, he goes back to his usual soundtrack-ish chorus – again, I love the band rocking out.  They still have to show their true colours. (C+)

8. You Got Me

Definitely my favourite song of the album.  For lack of a better word, it’s just sick.  Amazing bass line throughout the song and an unconventional line that’s just proving Tony’s worth as a voice to pay attention to.  The chorus/”post”-verse is undoubtedly my favourite of all the songs on the album because it’s not formulaic.  The asymmetry of the song makes it memorable – it’s not really catchy, the musical extravagance of each band member are clearly shown, and the band finally gets the opportunity to let loose a little.  Although the latter part of the song is eerily similar to “Mountain Man”, I much prefer this side of the band than the “Come Away” one.  The ending reminds me of “Flying” by The Beatles…or pretty much anything from the psychedelic era.  Overall, an awesome song that makes this album work. (A)

9.  Saving Grace

Second favourite from the album.  Again, this proves that Tony knows how to fit melody with dissonance.  The beginning’s complete chaos – the drumbeat’s asymmetrical, the time signature’s completely screwed up, but the band somehow is able to assert (gradually) a beautiful melody.  The chorus might be cliched and overused, but I pay more attention to Tony’s harmony during the chorus.  Any band can play those four chords over and over again, but it’s all about the talent that’s being shown in that particular portion of the song.  I should just start calling him “The Voice”. (A)

10.  My Love

When I heard the title to this song, I was convinced that it was going to be “Come Away” 1.0.  However, it’s going to be one of the underrated songs of this album just because of the songwriting skill that the band has put into it.  Again, they’ve mastered the art of creating “phases” for each of their songs, making it a joy to listen to.  It’s a sweet song, sure – but it’s a sweet song that I can relate to.  Reminiscent of Paul McCartney solo songs, it’s a song that needs to be their next single.  Sure, I’ve probably said I prefer the edgier side of the band, but this is an exception – this is the one ballad throughout the album that actually wins over my attention and, no pun intended, love. (A)

The high points of the album:

1. You Got Me

2. Saving Grace

3. My Love

4. 14 Arms

5. Mountain Man

Overall grade: B+

*Note*:  It’s a strong start for the Crash Kings.  They’ve released a strong record that should motivate people to pay attention to this band a lot more.  Mark my words – this band will be big.

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